I'm researching HR Consultants: the good, the bad and the ugly. I'd like to hear about your experiences of using them - many of our members are also independent HR Consultants what's your view on the market from the inside? Is it tough getting work? When should clients parachute in the HR Consultant? When do HR consultants add value? And when is it a waste of time and money?
I look forward to hearing from you.
Contributing Editor, HR Zone
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As someone who has sat on both sides of the fence I have seen two major problems with the issue of consultants.
1. There is a lot of rubbish on the market.
2. To many employers don't actually know what they want the consultants to do before hiring them. They often also fail to brief them correctly on what they want the consultant to do.
When is it a waste of time and money?
1. Employers bring in a consultant in then undermine the whole role of the consultant by asking a memeber of their own staff to do the same thing they have asked the consultant to do.
2. They hire a consult and then don't listen to what they are being told because it does not suit them.
And when is it a waste of time and money?
When a consultancy hires the freelancers to deliver to an end client. Frequently there is no feedback process in place and the consultancy doesnt want to hear any feedback for fear of upsetting/losing the client. Thus the freelancer is caught in a Catch 22 situation, with a client who is unaware their processes or briefing or whatever is inadequate and a consultancy paying the freelancer who isnt interested in any feedback, just in the retaining the goodwill of the end client.
Result; freelancer loses interest and/or gets frustrated and wishes to leave, end client doesnt get to hear any of the valuable insight that he employed the freelancer for in the first place.
How often does this happen? Frequently
I agree with Iain's comments here in that often companies fail to set an appropriate brief or establish a sense of trust with consultants before engaging with them.
Having said that while using your own staff to duplicate the work of the consultant is pure stupidity, it is part of a good consultant's work to sell the benefits of their work to the client throughout the consultative process.
I have an additional niggle in that often consultants are treated like gods within the workplace - due to their level of financial compensation, and this often leads to employers accepting their recommendations at face value without questioning their findings.
For me a consultant adds value, when you do not have the specific skill set in house (or do not have the capacity to conduct the project using your existing staff), you define the project clearly, you have a regular review process on the project with feedback taken from all stakeholders, you agree the boundaries for change from the onset and you place your trust in the person to deliver what you need.
By and large though "consultant" is an overused term and a large amount of "consulting" work could be done for far less money and hassle if you just appoint a fixed-term employee with the relevant skill set for a fair market rate.
Consultancy is only really needed for projects that require rare skillsets and a large amount of experience in that field.
As a consultant I offer the following obervations:
1. The best consultants are usually found through word of mouth. Their past projects are the best advertisement, and a personal recommendation goes a long way, so ask your network. Check out 'Who's Who' on HR Zone.
2. Use if possible 'careeer consultants', not just a job seeker looking for any old work. Look for an impressive track record and take up references. Look for a wide range of skills, including interpersonal and 'technical' - what can they 'value add', rather than just do the work.
3. Work with the Consultant and scope the project.
4.Leave them to go the work, agreeing tight goals and have regular progress meetings.
5. If you do use an agency, choose niche.
The right consultant / consultancy is one with clear values about being of benefit to their client, having the relevant proven experience, being objective and impartial in their advice, and who have no desire to create a "dependency culture" in their wake, but give the client the tools to carry on the good work.
The main reasons that consultants are called in our experience are:
a) because we are known to have expertise that is missing in the client organisation;
b) to validate or enhance some proposed actions by the client;
c) to solve some sticky problem that the client has encountered or even been bequeathed by a previous "consultant"!!
I agree with the other contributors' views expressed here, and would further say that there a lot of people out there calling themselves consultants who have never actually added real value; some of these had some experience in large organisations, but never had to put their reputations literally on the line! whereas every time a consultant takes on an assignment, this is what they are in effect doing.
One good effect we have noted in recent years is the willingness of both private and public sector organisations to move out of the orbit of the "big-name" consultancies and engage with smaller niche or boutique entities to try out some more radical and inventive solutions at what could well be a more affordable price overall.
HR Consultants come in all sorts of guises of course, just like HR Managers: senior, junior, specialist, generalist, etc.
Just occasionally, I find we are asked to do something because the client wasn't sure how to do themself, or to tell them something they didn't know.
Much more often though, I find we are asked to do something which clients could perfectly well have done themselves, but didn't want to. Maybe they were too busy, or wanted something doing urgently, or just wanted another perspective.
And sometimes, clients just want somebody to take responsibility if things should go wrong, or to tell them what they already knew as an independent outsider.
All seem perfectly valid reasons to my mind.
And the best clients? Those that want to build a long term relationship based on mutual trust without building a dependency upon you.
The best consultants? Those that are there when you want them and know your business, want to know what you want rather than tell you what they think you need, and don't continually pester you for work or become dependent upon you....
How's that for a quick over-view?